Thursday, July 4, 2013

Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, July 4, 2013

MOUNT ST. HELENS NATIONAL VOLCANIC MONUMENT You’ll just barely scratch the surface of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument if you only have a day to visit but what a stunning surface it is! For the peak experience we recommend camping or seeking lodging nearby. If that’s not possible you can still pack a lot of grandeur into a day with many points of interest; overlooks with nature trails, visitor centers and viewpoints; the piece de-resistance, of course, is the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Before the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 Highway 504 from Castle Rock was the main route to Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake (today it is called the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway). This majestic highway is just one example of how this region bounced back and recovered after the eruption. Here is our itinerary for a days’ visit starting from Castle Rock: The Mount St Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake: View displays inside (a $5 entry fee for adults); outside you can hike the ½ mile interpretive Wetlands Trail. The visitor center is also a good place to buy the handy “Road Guide to Mount St. Helens”. On a clear day there is also a good view of Mount St. Helens from the terrace outside the visitor center. Next you’ll cross the Toutle River on a highway bridge built to replace the bridge destroyed during the 1980 eruption. The mudflow resulting from the eruption destroyed about 200 homes before cresting at Castle Rock. Though mudflows are destructive life quietly returns. As soon as the area re-opened we hiked a trail at Mount Saint Helens; alders and pearly everlasting had already established a foothold. To learn how mammals, birds, insects and vegetation survived and adapted to the eruption you can learn more about their survival strategies at the visitor centers. Our next stop was the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center. Here a short path leads to the Memorial Grove, a tranquil, forested setting established to honor those who lost their lives during the eruption – a plaque lists their names. Here you can also make arrangements for helicopter tours of the region (see additional information). The next point of interest is the Forest Learning Center; (no entry fee) created/managed by The Weyerhaeuser Company, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Learn more about how the surrounding area recovered with hands-on and visual aids. There is also a sweeping view of the valley where the volcanic debris flowed – peer through a telescope for closer views. Today elk graze in the valley below. We stopped at the Elk Rock overlook to take in the views of surrounding peaks including Mount Margaret, Coldwater Peak, Mount Adams and the pumice plain below created by the eruption. The Coldwater Science and Learning Center was closed and stopped at the Loowit Viewpoint. Here look into the crater of the mountain and walk a short stretch of the Boundary Trail with jaw-dropping overlooks. Well-placed signs remind visitors to stay on designated trails; otherwise risk a $100-300 fine. You won’t need to leave the trail to be blown away by views of Mount St. Helens and masses of wildflowers blooming nearby. From the Loowit Viewpoint visitors can hike or drive 0.8 mile to the Johnson Ridge Observatory. The highway ends at a parking area with a concession stand. From there it’s only a few paces uphill to the Johnston Ridge Observatory so named to honor David Johnston, the geologist who made the last measurements of the mountain before the 1980 eruption and was killed. There is an $8 entry fee (see additional information) to hike the trails or view interpretive displays inside the Observatory. After paying your fee or using an acceptable pass park rangers will attach a pink wrist-band around your wrist so you can come and go throughout the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Inside the observatory we could not resist seeing how much of a blip we made on the seismograph that monitors the movements of the mountain. To measure your impact: jump onto the platform to see the resulting spike you make on the seismograph. You can also experience the daily blips made by the mountains’ vibrations by standing on another platform where you will feel the minor but constant vibrations and shudders of the volcano. The story of Mount St. Helens is lavishly illustrated and explained through interpretive signs, hands-on displays, historic photographs and ranger-given talks. Don’t miss the walk on the short Eruption Trail (one mile round-trip, 100 feet gain). Prepare to be wowed by close-up views of Mount St. Helens and wildflower displays. On your way to or from the Johnston Ridge Observatory take a side-trip to Coldwater Lake; the lake was formed by an avalanche during the 1980 eruption. The lake is only a short distance off the highway to a parking area with paths to the lake; restroom, boat launch (electric motors only) and trails (don’t throw away that wrist-band!). You will need them as proof that you’ve paid to visit or hike the trails inside the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. There are also hiking trails around Coldwater Lake and access into the Lake Margaret Backcountry (an advance permit is required to camp, see additional information). Coldwater Lake provides a tranquil ending to a long and scenic experience through a violent landscape. Getting there: From Seattle head south on I-5 and turn off at Exit No. 49 onto State Route 504 (east). Allow about 3.5 hours’ drive time one-way from Seattle. Additional information: The maps are Green Trails No. 332 (Spirit Lake), Green Trails No. 364 (Mount St. Helens) and Green Trails No. 364S (Mount Saint Helens Northwest). Helicopter Tours (Hillsboro Aviation): For prices and/or to make a reservation or call 360-274-5200. Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument (360-449-7800) Johnston Ridge Observatory: 360-274-2140 Mount St. Helens Learning and Science Center at Coldwater: 360-274-2144 Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake: Eruption Trail No. 201 – easy, 1 mile, 100 feet gain. The trail starts at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake: located 5 miles east of I-5, operated year-round by Washington State Parks. Fees: $5.00 per adult, $2.50 youth, $15 per family. Open 9 to 5 pm daily, May 16-Sept 15. Phone: 360-274-0962 Johnston Ridge Observatory: open mid-May through October (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily). Pets are not allowed at viewpoints or on trails. A Monument Pass (wrist band) is required and available at the Observatory. Coldwater Lake or Johnston Ridge Observatory are inside the Mount St. Helens National Monument and require an Interagency Pass or Northwest Forest Pass. Otherwise $8.00 per person (16 years and older). A Senior Northwest Forest Pass enables free entry to pass-holders otherwise a Northwest Forest Pass will allow one person entry to Johnston Ridge or Coldwater Lake. The Lakes Trail (Coldwater Lake) is six miles round-trip, elevation gain 500 feet. The Eruption Trail at the Johnston Ridge Observatory is one mile round-trip with 100 feet of gain. Camping at Mount Margaret Backcountry from Coldwater Lake: Permits are by advance registration only. Apply early – applications accepted by mail, FAX or in person or at the Johnston Ridge Observatory or the Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station. Maximum party size is four – no fires, no pets, no stock. For additional information visit: . The phone number for the Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station is 360-497-1100. To view photos of Mount St. Helens click on the link below, scroll down to second set. . Karen Sykes

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